Haiti Pilgrimage III
October 8-12, 2009
- Pilgrimage Marks New Phase in Promoting Cultural Historical Tourism
- First Member of Congressional Black Caucus Visits Citadel
- Haitian Americans Pledge to Return Home to Engage the Development Process
New York, October 19, 2009 – Under the leadership of Dr. Ron Daniels, President of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century (IBW) and Founder of the Haiti Support Project (HSP) and ably assisted by Mary France-Daniels, October 8-12, forty-one African Americans and Haitian Americans embarked on the Third Annual Pilgrimage to Haiti to visit the Citadel and other important historical sites. Warren Ballentine, Radio Talk Show host on Radio One and XM Networks and regular CNN Contributor; Richard Muhammad, Editor of the Final Call Newspaper, Black America’s only weekly national newspaper;George Fraser, President of FraserNet, the largest network of Black professions, entrepreneurs and business owners in the world with more than 51,000 members; Joseph Beasley, Regional Coordinator of Rev. Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow/Push Coalition and IBW/HSP’s “Global Ambassador;” and, Kangol Kid, the first Haitian American Hip Hop Artist and original member of U.T.F.O., were the Special Guests for this year’s Pilgrimage.
The Delegation was delighted to be received at Toussaint Louverture International Airport by Dr. Charles Manigat, Minister for Haitians Living Abroad and Lionel Pressoir of Tours Haiti and Destination Haiti Foundation, one of HSP’s partners on the ground in Haiti. Upon arrival the delegation received an impressive briefing at the U.S. Embassy which focused on economic growth, peace and security initiatives of USAID. The session was conducted by Alex Deprez and facilitated by Mari Tolliver.
With renewed focus on Haiti generated by the appointment of former President Clinton as Special UN Envoy, Haiti Pilgrimage III may mark a milestone in the effort to erase the media driven negative images of Haiti and the Haitian people. It may also mark a turning point in the quest to make cultural/historical tourism a foundation for an economic renaissance in the first Black Republic in this hemisphere. As a symbol of freedom for people of African descent globally and a beacon of hope for oppressed people everywhere, we believe the magnificent Citadel is destined to be the face of this renaissance. The Citadel is Haiti’s greatest cultural/historical treasure and asset. It is precisely for this reason that the Haiti Support Project (HSP) launched the Model City Initiative to transform Milot, the lovely town that sits at the foot of the Citadel and Sans Souci Palace, into a Mecca for cultural/historical tourism.
Having been received by Georgemain Prophete, Government Delegate of the North and Malherbe Dorvil, President, Chamber of Commerce in Cap Haitien, our delegation arrived in Milot welcomed by marching bands and throngs of well wishers including hundreds of smartly dressed, smiling school children. During the official welcome ceremony, greetings were extended by Mayor Paul Telfort,Diansnic Joseph of the Local Development Committee of Milot and Daniel Élie, General Director of the Institute for the Preservation of National Heritage. Born in Brooklyn of Haitian parents and visiting Haiti for the first time since he was eleven years old, Kangol Kid was immediately recognized by a number of admiring fans. Dr. Ron Daniels, announced contributions of school supplies, shoes provided by Ola Herndon’s Shoes for Soul Initiative and the launch of a micro-credit lending fund. He pledged that HSP would redouble efforts to raise funds for the construction of the Wayne C. Thompson Community Empowerment and Cultural Center [the ceremony included a tribute to Wayne]. Dr. Daniels concluded by informing the people that because they are located at the gateway to the Citadel, the whole world is watching Milot as Haiti’s potential Capital for cultural/historical tourism and the torchbearer of the legacy of the Revolution.
The highlight of the ceremony, and this year’s tour of the Citadel, however, was the presence and participation of Congressional Gregory Meeks of New York, Chairman of the House Subcommittee on International Monetary Policy and Trade [to our knowledge, the first Member of Congress and the Congressional Black Caucus ever to visit the Citadel]. The Congressman electrified the assembled multitude with a message to the Haitian people from President Barack Obama declaring that Haiti will be a priority for his administration. Mr. Meeks hailed the heritage of the Haitian Revolution and proclaimed that as people of African descent, Haitians and African Americans are one people who will progress together. The crowd roared its approval.
With Daniel Elie personally serving as Guide to our Delegation, the Congressman began the exhilarating journey up the heights of the mountain atop which sits the Citadel, one of the great triumphs of African genius, skill and will. Congressman Meeks left pledging to tell the story to his colleagues in Congress and all who would listen of his transformative Pilgrimage to one of the great wonders of the world and his amazing moments with the Haitian people in Milot!
A number of Haitian leaders, business people, journalists and friends of HSP joined in the festivities at the Farewell Reception at the fabulous Karibe Hotel. Former Prime Minister Jacques E. Alexis, AmbassadorLesly Voltaire, Pierre Brunache, Jean Claude DeGranges, Jean Jean Pierre, Ralph Chevry, Danel George, Mawiyah Duperval, Francois Pierre, Claudine Auguste and Kompe Filo were among those in attendance. During the introductions, two Haitian American members of the delegation announced their decision to come to Haiti to assist with the development process. George Joseph, a civil engineer from Atlanta, made a commitment to spend five years in Haiti lending his skill/talent to infrastructure projects.Lionel Legagneur, a retired businessman from Miami, will also return with his wife Monique Legagneurto become actively engaged in the development process. Dr. Daniels noted with pride that HSP specializes in encouraging Haiti’s native sons and daughters to reconnect with their native land.
The climax of the Pilgrimage was the magnanimous and warm welcome by President Rene Gracia Preval at the National Palace. In the meeting with our Special Guests, the President congratulated HSP on the success of this and previous Pilgrimages and pledged his continued support for the Model City Initiative. George Fraser introduced the FraserNet Debit Card which has the potential to revolutionize the process of remitting monies from the U.S. to Haiti by reducing the cost/fees by 90% thereby saving family members/friends hundreds of millions of dollars annually. The President assigned an economic advisor the task of further exploring the feasibility of the concept.
Uppermost on the President’s mind was the issue of Haiti’s image abroad, especially in the United States. With dramatically improved security and political stability, the President indicated that Haiti is poised for take-off in terms of tourism and economic development. This will not happen, however, unless the negative image of Haiti is changed. He urged the delegation to return to the U.S. and work to improve the image of Haiti. Dr. Daniels suggested that it is critically important that the Minister of Tourism and other Ministers of Government utilize HSP to facilitate connecting with Black media in the U.S. to counter the negative depictions of Haiti. Warren Ballentine offered the President an opportunity for an exclusive interview on his nationally syndicated radio talk show — President Preval eagerly accepted! At the conclusion of the meeting with Special Guests, the President graciously greeted the entire delegation and concluded our visit with a photo on the steps of the National Palace.
Commitments for the Model City Initiative in Milot
♦Through the Model City Initiative, HSP will continue the work to strengthen the educational system in Milot. Our goal is to mobilize resources to provide school supplies for an additional 3,000 students in 2010 for a total of 5,000.
♦Warren Ballentine and Richard Muhammad have pledged to raise resources to provide scholarships for 60 students.
♦Dr. David Whitaker has agreed to be part of the task force created by Representative Marie St. Fleur which is working on curriculum development and teaching training for the schools in Milot.
♦We are hopeful that Ola Herndon, who delivered 600 pairs of shoes to the people of Milot through her Shoes for Soul Campaign, will make a similar commitment for 2010.
♦Kazembe Batts is committed to exploring ways of establishing student and teacher exchange programs with the public and private colleges/universities in the greater Cap Haitien/Milot region. HSP will work to identify laptop and desktop computers for the University of Notre Dame in response to a request by Dr. Cary Hector, Dean of the School of Business and Administration.
♦HSP will seek to raise an additional $5,000 for the Micro-Credit Lending Program in 2010 increasing the fund to $15,000.
♦HSP will work to recruit investors for the Hotel and Restaurant being planned for Milot by the Destination Haiti Foundation. Once the information is provided, we hope every member of the delegation will purchase at least one share in these ventures.
♦Working with the US based organization Medi-Share, Joseph Beasley is committed to arranging the delivery of containers of medical supplies to the Sacred Heart Hospital of Milot.
*The Wayne C. Thompson Community Empowerment and Cultural Center
♦HSP is committed to redoubling the effort to raise the resources to break ground on the Empowerment and Cultural Center as a centerpiece of the Model City Initiative. As envisioned, the Center would house a model school/academy, library, computer center, visitor’s information desk, facilities for cultural/educational events, radio station, offices for the Micro-Credit Lending Program and Local Development Committee.
Building the Empowerment Center is the number one priority for HSP moving forward. We hope every member of the delegation will make a contribution to this effort. Individual donors who contribute $100, $250, $500 or $1,000 or up will have their names inscribed in bricks that will be placed on a special wall of the Empowerment Center. HSP will be seeking the support/assistance of Fredrica Bey and the Women in Support of the Million Man March and Betty Dopson of CEMOTAP to achieve this goal.
♦HSP is committed to working with George Fraser to vigorously explore the feasibility of utilizing the FraserNet Debit Card to usher in a revolution in terms of reducing the cost/fees of remittances from the Haitian Diaspora in the U.S. to Haiti. The FraserNet Debit Card Revolution will also enable affiliated organizations/agencies and institutions to amass capital to invest in various development projects and sponsor social, cultural and educational programs and projects.
♦To enhance the image of Haiti in the U.S. Frances Caldwell will create an expanded exhibit on the history and culture of Haiti at the African American Museum she directs in Cleveland, Ohio.
♦Richard Muhammad, Editor of the Final Call Newspaper, is committed to running feature stories on Haiti Pilgrimage III and disseminating information to other media outlets about the positive aspects of the development process in Haiti.
♦Kangol Kid is committed to gathering footage to produce a video that can be used to tell the story of the history, culture, dynamism and determination of the Haitian people as he experienced it during the Pilgrimage.
♦Warren Ballentine will conduct an exclusive interview with President Rene Gracia Preval on his nationally syndicated radio talk show (which has an audience of 5 million people) and reach out to his numerous friends and associates in media to join in a campaign to change the negative image of Haiti.
♦In a major effort to change the image of Haiti, HSP will explore the feasibility of a Caribbean African Heritage Cruise in August of 2010 which would feature a tour of the Citadel and Sans Souci Palace and other important cultural/historical sites. With the assistance of the Special Guests for Haiti Pilgrimage III and the members of the delegation, the goal is to attract at least 300-500 participants for the Cruise including a number of opinion makers, national leaders, high profile artists, athletes and entertainers. The Cruise would send the clearest signal to date that Haiti is stable, safe and open for business, especially cultural/historical tourism.
There were many moving and memorable moments during Haiti Pilgrimage III: the enthusiastic reception in Milot; the image of Congressman Gregory Meeks standing atop the Citadel; the tribute to Wayne C. Thompson by the Local Development Committee in Milot; the warm reception at the National Palace by President Preval. Dr. Ron Daniels was deeply touched when Kangol Kid’s mother approached him, planted a kiss on his cheek and thanked him for “bringing my son back home.” Fredrica Bey, leader of the formidable organization Women in Support of the Million Man March, made the Pilgrimage a birthday gift for her twin grandson’s Isaiah and Elijah Gardner…all memorable moments.
Equally important, there was great energy, excitement, passion, camaraderie and a sense of commitment among this remarkable delegation of educators, journalists, business leaders, cultural workers, community activists and concerned human beings. Given its unique history and culture, only in Haiti was the exhilarating and inspiring Pilgrimage they experienced possible. We in the Haiti Support Project are confident that a new group of Ambassadors of Hope for Haiti have been commissioned. Their charge is to tell the story of what they experienced, work to change the image of Haiti and spread the word that every person of African descent and friend of Haiti should visit the Citadel at least once in a lifetime. Working together, Haitians and the Black Diaspora in the U.S. will partner to finish the unfinished Haitian Revolution!
HSP would like to extend profound appreciation to Tour Haiti – email@example.com – for its superlative management of the logistics and arrangements for this extraordinary Pilgrimage.
* Wayne C. Thompson was Executive Director of the Oklahoma Health Care Project and President of WCT Enterprises. He was a member of the Board of Directors of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century and Chairman of the Advisory Committee for the Haiti Support Project. He was deeply devoted to IBW/HSP’s work in Haiti and dearly beloved by the members of the Local Development Committee in Milot. Wayne was Dr. Ron Daniels’ closest friend/partner in the work of building IBW/HSP.